Steel Bridge Competition Highlights ASCE’s Student Connections

June 2, 2015
ASCE Executive Director Tom Smith

ASCE Executive Director, Tom Smith

The Kansas City Convention Center may be like the convention center in your town: a big, wide-open space with concrete floors, a truss support roof, and the steady hum from the metal halide lights.

But on May 22 and 23, it also was full of potential: the best and brightest engineering students from all over North America, applying some of the same structural engineering principles used to design and construct that facility’s roof structure.

Representing 48 schools, these soon-to-be professionals were in Kansas City to compete in the 24th Annual ASCE/AISC National Student Steel Bridge Competition (NSSBC).

George Mason University's team assembles the first-place bridge in the "stiffness" category.  The University of Florida team placed first overall.

George Mason University’s team assembles the first-place bridge in the “stiffness” category. The University of Florida team placed first overall.

I was fascinated by the teams and their bridges, and it was great to have a chance to talk about ASCE with these passionate students. I told them about my days at the ASCE Chapter at the University of Virginia in the 1980s and learned that many of their challenges are the same ones I had 30 years ago. Like me, they are looking for ways to handle tough classes, to launch a job search, and to hang out with people interested in building a better world. They love to compete, to show the world what they can do, and to build stuff. I do, too. They also were not deterred by failure, like the bridge collapse due to replacement bolts that double-sheared, providing a lesson learned for real life.boltsCompetitions like Steel Bridge and the upcoming Concrete Canoe National Competition are just the beginning of the ways ASCE builds our future engineers. Not only does ASCE have a long tradition of sponsoring collegiate competitions and student chapters at the university level, but we also sponsor online bridge design competitions to attract and inspire STEM talent through Engineering Encounters; and we now offer support for Civil Engineering Clubs in high schools. There is also an extensive library of learning tools for kids K-12 on our website. These activities are fun, engaging and show a new generation of young people how civil engineers shape the world around them.

testing the load

Whether we are making a transition from our formal studies to our first real jobs or thinking about our lasting legacies for the profession, members look to ASCE to give all of us a platform to advance civil engineering and serve the public good. Facing those challenges together is one of the fundamental reasons that we have the Society, and its value to civil engineers throughout the world grows daily. You can rest assured that it’ll be in good hands when the students I met in Kansas City become the professionals – and leaders – that take us into the future.

Tom Smith






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1 Comment
  • The bridge building competition should result in a usable product. Most campuses and communities could use another free pedestrian/bicycle bridge each year for their trails and recreation program. If the rules of the contest included load testing equivalent to real world use, the bridge would be safe to use. The US Forest Service has design and installation criteria for back country bridges which do not require a new design as long as the length of the bridge and height above the stream fit their criteria. The contest rules could be slightly modified to fit their criteria. A national partnership between ASCE and USFS and National Municipal League would result in thousands of bridges for the forests and communities every year from the contests. Let’s stop the waste and do our part to fix the failing, or lack of, infrastructure.

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